Do you have an issue with mold in your house? Does your home smell musty? Do you see subtle signs of mold on sheetrock or in bathrooms?
Maybe you have members of the household that are sick and you think it might be to your home, and you certainly need to figure this out for sure. Exploration of a possible unhealthy home starts here.
The purpose of this page is to understand
- what mold is,
- what it can do to the health of family members
- how to prevent a problem with mold, or if you have one,
- how to figure out where the problem is and solve the underlying issue as well as get rid of the mold.
You may not even see the mold, but you get a hint of a problem with a musty smell. Musty smells are serious symptoms that something is not right. Do not cover up musty odors with air fresheners. Air fresheners are quite popular but are health hazards.
Mold can also show up behind wall paper or under flooring tile as pinkish color splotches, or as a colony around an air vent in a bathroom. You do not have to see mold to have a health issue with mold. If you can smell a musty odor, you have an issue.
The image below shows a non subtle problem which has been around a while. But this image does demonstrate blotches and splotches.
Lets stop a moment and figure out what mold is
Molds are fungi. They grow anywhere there are the 3 ingredients they require for success. These are moisture, nutrients and a place to attach and grow. We will address these 3 issues later.
We learned about mold in grade school. They play a critical role in returning dead organic material in nature back into organic building materials for other living things. Mold builds elaborate structures in the materials they feed on and when they come to maturity, they bloom and spread spores as a reproductive mechanism.
How Big a Problem is Mold to Health?
Mold is an allergen. Now allergens are usually thought of as a harmless substance that causes an autoimmune reaction but mold is not harmless and should be removed from homes.Effective efforts need to be made to prevent the growth of mold.
This is true of any issue in the house- the problem gains momentum and severity as it is ignored; but mold also touches health, and moisture is the root cause of all destructive forces in homes… Prevention and taking action requires starting now.
Before the first musty odors, before the first appearance of something weird seeming to stain the wall, before the small spot spreads out… Action starts with understanding the fundamentals of controlling air leaks and humidity and water leaks into the house. We start that discussion here.
Many common molds produce chemicals called mycotoxins These toxins are produced by many indoor molds and these can create health issues.
These health issues can get blown out of proportion many times by companies wanting to sell mold removal or mold treatments services; but the bottom line is- invasive mold in the house is not healthy for anybody, even though some may not seem to be affected and can cause health problems. All indoor mold growth is potentially harmful and should be removed promptly, no matter what types of mold are present or whether it can produce toxins. It is also essential to remove the root causes of the mold. The root cause we can control for is moisture. We talk about molds and wet wood rot and keeping them out here.
Allergic reactions are quite serious. Mold and mildew spores can make you sick in a multitude of ways. Mold can cause sneezing and runny nose and all kinds of respiratory issues. Mold can give you itchy and watery eyes that are quite debilitating and painful. You can feel congested and make breathing labored. . Mold spores can make your joints ache, and give you headaches and make you feel sickly and fatigued. Mold can make you miserable so you cannot get comfortable and rest. We talk about the issue of whether your home might be making you sick, more extensively, here.
Are you among those people at greater risk from mold?
Exposure to mold is not healthy for anyone but babies and children, elderly people and individuals with respiratory conditions or sensitivities such as allergies and asthma or people who are already dealing with medical issues are at greater risk from mold.
Make sure you consult with a board certified allergist if you feel you have an allergy
If someone is reacting to an allergen in your home, then you need to find and use a board certified allergist. You have enough aggravation already. You need accurate information to identify the actual allergen. It just makes sense to make sure we know what we are addressing before we start acting on solutions. It all comes back to having a systems approach- to solving the problem. You do not want to be among those who self diagnose and continue thrashing around for solutions to find out you misidentified the actual issue.
Stick to a critical path for solutions.
Making assumptions can lead to any number of options which do not help. If you get off the critical path and dive into presumptions, you obscure problems and make things worse. We talk about stuff you should not buy here. The issue here is a little more nuanced but just as essential. There is a critical path to solutions. There are all kinds of diversions into the ditch with faux solutions.
What are the fundamental solutions to getting rid of mold?
While understanding family members individual sensitivities to allergens and not guessing, the fundamental causes of mold are simple. Yet these fundamentals are often obscured and ignored in the quest to get rid of the mold and overlooking the fundamental building blocks of mold.
Mold only needs a few simple things to grow and multiply:
The modern home has a regular smorgasbord of nutrients for mold. The building products used in modern construction are ideal meals. We explore the issue of mold food in building products here. We also differentiate wood rot issues and mold here.
Our means of controlling mold in homes is to control the moisture in our homes.
We deal with the details of moisture in homes in depth on this web site. but it is on many pages, and all the ramifications and factors can be confusing and obscure. There are only two sources of moisture problems in your home. Leaks and humidity issues. We will discuss a scenario with both of these and then leave you with references to other resource.
Water leaks create conditions for mold and rot
There are mold and rot infestations from water leaking in through walls- leaking in through roofing and side walls, and coming in around the sill plate if you have a drainage problem. Or leaks can start inside from plumbing. Water plays such a key role in our homes- yet leaks create a zone where mold and rot fungi can get a hold and flourish.
This is water as liquid, soaking into insulation and plywood or OSB and into roofing rafters, or wall studs or sill plates and then being wicked into wall studs. sheetrock gets wet, and wall paper and paint peels and stains come out of the wall, or mushrooms start growing, and suddenly you discover a mold and rot infestation.
Water in building materials provides the moisture, and the wood provides the nutrients. The leak is localized but sheetrock must come out, and insulation pulled out and the rotten wood replaced and all mold cleaned up. The wood that is sound has to be dried out completely and moisture levels must completely dry. The wood must be treated to kill the mold.
But it is critical that the leak is repaired properly. Leaks in plumbing are straightforward. Leaks in the water shedding layer are much more complex but must be carefully attended to. Too often, a little half hearted patch is part of a full throated mold remediation problem. We need repairs that are sound, that anticipate further problems and address areas at risk. We deal with water leaking issues here. Leaking risks are often designed right into the home. We can prevent problems with leaks right now and prevent big problems later.
Humidity issues are the second source of mold
Another entry point for mold is in high humidity conditions above 80% humidity. Most homes are not this humid but in certain micro-environments around the house, bathrooms or basements or crawl spaces, humidity is greater. Cold surfaces are where the dew point is reached on surfaces, or where surfaces do not dry after being wet- like in a bathroom.
North Texas is a humid place. See the link for our climate zone. This humidity gets carried into our conditioned homes in the cooling season by air leaks and, depending on how well our mechanical systems deal with moisture, we can become inured to high levels of humidity. This high humidity allows cool surfaces to reach dew point and create the conditions for mold growth. We deal with the broad theme of water leaks, air leaks and mechanical issues and a health house from this page. But we turn our attention to the result here. mold growth caused by humidity and reaching dew point.
Do you have a crawl space?
Crawl spaces are a great place to find a mold problem. With air leaks and your indoor air coming up through the crawlspace, you could very well have a crop of mold in the crawl space. Crawl spaces have really serious issues in North Texas. We talk about crawl spaces here.
How do I go about finding mold?
Investigate. The most practical way to find a mold problem is by using your eyes to look for mold growth and using your nose to locate the source of a suspicious odor. If you see mold or if there is an earthy or musty smell, you should assume a mold problem exists.
You don’t have to be having an allergic reaction to always be on the alert for mold and for water leaks. Both can do serious harm. Both damage your wallet and mold can damage your health.
What other clues should you be aware of?
- Beware of odd growths on about anything. Mold can appear fuzzy, velvety, cottony, grainy or leathery and and come in a variety of colors. Mold can show up as discoloration or like a stain on the surface of building materials or furnishings
- You can always rely on your nose. Musty smell means there is mold around.
- Look around for water stains or where water is seen to condense. These are points where mold can or will grow. Watermarks on carpet or the base of walls or ceilings or at ceiling edges with a wall, are a sign that you have water issues which can be much bigger in the background but just showing on sheet rook or wall paper.
- Do you see water stains on woodwork of cabinets. Modern cabinetry is very susceptible to mold and rotting. We look at the issue of modern building materials and their vulnerability to mold and rot here. Engineered woods are an issue.
- Humidity issues are a big deal. High humidity condenses in cold spots in the house. It does not have to at or near freezing- the cool surface just has to be at the dew point or lower. Here is the link on perspective for humidity issues again. You might need some perspective on humidity. It is a big problem in Texas.
- Look for evidence of water leaks along any part of the house associated with an outside wall- windows, doors, overhead spans of sidewalls… Look for stains on carpet and base boards. If you see a stain do not wait for more signs of a problem. Or you can, but be aware that problems only grow in impact and size and cost, and you will get to fixh it for you or for the next buyer…
What Do We do about the Mold?
First off, we need to understand how to prevent the growth of mold?
We control for moisture. We do this in two ways. We have our home air sealed and properly insulated to control the entrance of unconditioned and humid air. We have a well designed and tuned mechanical system to control the humidity created inside the house. We have a well thought out system of fans to remove moisture from the house. We do not exhaust household moisture and odors into the attic or crawl space. And if you home is quite airtight, we might consider a mechanical ventilation system to know where our fresh air is coming from.
The above fundamental solutions are the first key step to treating a mold condition.
If you have a mold issue, one of the above structural or mechanical issues or a combination of them have allowed mold to take hold. These fundamental solutions are essential before we turn to treating the symptoms of the problem. We don’t want the mold to come back. We talk about understanding the difference of treating fundamental issues and not just treating symptom here.
You do not need to do mold testing. This is expensive and is not useful for homes. Do not let anyone talk you into expensive mold testing. The right eyes, the right nose, the right expertise can help you determine a mold problem and the critical path towards solutions.
A broad discussion on the actual treatment of mold.
OK. you need to be aware that mold is big business. Which means all kinds of great offers are made to make money. You, the homeowner must be vigilant and watch out for yourself and cut through the continuum from utter BS to a possible solution for you. And make sure you also understand the parameters of the issues you are facing and just how deep the problem might go.
How big a problem do you have? How extensive is the problem? What kind of surface is moldy. Porous materials can basically fill with mold vs. hard surfaces can be cleane.
There is a tremendous number of issues to consider whether you want to try any of this cleanup yourself. Like do you have people in your home with health issues which might be impacted with your own process of cleaning mold. How big is the job and how extensive. Shower tile are easy to clean but is there water behind the shower walls?
Here is a great resource on the US EPA site for looking over what you might want to deal with or find the right contractor to help you. And the right contractor would be critical here, we talk about finding the right contractor here. You have several issues to deal with here. Remember you must treat fundamental issues as well as clean up symptoms.
Do you have any thoughts here? Feel free to add them below